250 B. POLEVOI food for himself, persistently invited him to dinner; but he knew how hard the old people toiled on their tiny vege- table patch beneath the windows, how precious every onion and every carrot was to them, and how, like little sister and brother sharing some sweetmeat, they shared their bread ration every morning; and so he cheerfully told them that to avoid the bother of cooking he now dined at an officers' messroom. Saturday came, the day on which Anyuta—whom he had telephoned every evening to report on the unsatisfactory state of his affairs—would be relieved from duty. He resolved to take a desperate step. In his kit-bag he still had his father's old silver cigarette case with a niello design of a sleigh drawn by three dashing horses on the corner, and bearing on the inside the in- scription: "On your silver wedding. From your friends." Alexei did not smoke, but his mother had slipped this precious family relic into his pocket when he had left home for the front, and he had kept the heavy, clumsy thing all the time, putting it into his pocket "for luck" when going on a flight. He fished the cigarette case out of his kit-bag and took it to the commission shop. A thin woman, smelling of moth-balls, turned the ciga- rette case in her hands, pointed to the inscription with a bony finger and declared that articles bearing an inscrip- tion were not accepted for sale. "But I'm not asking much for it. Name your own price." "No, no, and besides, Comrade Officer, I should think it's too early for you to accept gifts for your silver wed- ding," the moth-ball woman remarked caustically, glanc- ing up at Alexei with hostile, colourless eyes. Flushing hotly, the airman snatched the cigarette case up from the counter and made for the exit. Somebody stopped him by his arm, breathing the heavy smell of wine into his ear. "Quite a nice-looking little thing you've got there. Cheap, did you say?" asked a man with an ugly, unshaved face and a prominent blue nose. He stretched out a sin- ewy trembling hand towards the cigarette case. "Massive. Out of respect for a hero of the Patriotic War, I'll give you five 'greys' for it."